French startup Stratoflight and engineering company Expleo are partnering on the development of a balloon-based spacecraft with a balcony so passengers can look down on the Earth from the stratosphere.
Stratoflight’s spacecraft will allow passengers to reach 35km (22 miles) above ground level in a capsule complete with a viewing platform.
The spacecraft is 8m (26ft) in length, 4m (13ft) wide and 3m (10ft) high and will carry up to six people, including two pilots. It uses hydrogen filled balloons similar to those used for scientific research. To achieve a zero-carbon footprint, hydrogen will be produced locally at the take-off site from solar and wind renewable sources.
Reservations for passengers will open in early 2023, with the first flight scheduled for 2025.
Consultancy Expleo is designing the flight capsule for Stratoflight, including the extra-vehicular viewing platform, or “balcony”. Passengers wearing a pressurised suit will be able to step out into space to view the Earth from the stratosphere, at an altitude where the planet’s curvature will be visible.
Engineers at Expleo’s innovation laboratory are considering numerous parameters to ensure a safe and immersive experience for passengers in the capsule with large glass areas in its structure, including structural sizing, interior and exterior panels, design of onboard electronics, safety, and aerodynamics.
The cockpit, made of bio-sourced, recycled or recyclable materials, will be able to fly at speeds of up to 140 km/h (87mph) during re-entry. Descent to land will be made under a piloted paraglider.
The program is being developed with several European partners, including Swing for the parachutes and Spartan Space for the pressure suit.
Arnaud Longobardi, airline pilot and co-founder of Stratoflight, said, “Stratoflight provides passengers with multiple exceptional experiences: the ascent to space that feels like a hot-air balloon flight, stepping out on to the viewing balcony, moving into space like an astronaut, and the landing, similar to free flight in a paraglider; all this in a capsule similar to a spacecraft.
“For me, this mission is not only the realization of my dreams as a pilot but also a technological innovation respectful of the planet.”
Frédérique Rebout, head of space at Expleo said, “Making space accessible to all, while respecting the environment, is at the heart of what we believe in at Expleo. Our teams of space engineers have designed this capsule with this dual objective in mind.
“And we intend to go further. We are currently investigating the possibility of making the capsule out of new green composite materials based on bamboo, which would further reduce its carbon footprint. We are proud of our work with Stratoflight and of our contribution to this innovation.”